For a Native American community in San Antonio that does not receive federal support, the partnership represents a new step in telling its story.
SAN ANTONIO — In a move that Indigenous representatives have called a good first step “to reverse the erasure of San Antonio’s Aboriginal people,” Public Theater management has officially recognized the Indigenous foundations upon which the historic theater rests.
And they say other plans are afoot to give the Indigenous community a bigger share of the spotlight.
“I hope that by uplifting them, expressing their existence and giving them a platform, we can use storytelling to support the work they do to serve their people,” said Claudia de Vasco, Artistic Director Public Executive.
The official recognition promises to “connect our theater to the history that preceded it”, while specifically recognizing the indigenous groups that make up the Coahuiltecan community “who continue to be excluded from processes that directly affect their cultural traditions, ancestry and their future descendants.
De Vasco and other public theater leaders were joined by Texas American Indians at Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT) at an event in February to formalize the engagement, but the partnership dates back to last fall and to de Vasco’s early working days.
While she said land acknowledgments are “pretty common” for theater groups across the country, they apparently weren’t as extensive for the Alamo City arts community.
“Reaching out to AIT was one of the first things I did in September,” de Vasco said. “We had discussed both official recognition and other ways to support their community.”
A few months later, these additional steps took shape. They include collaborating with Native Americans on new art projects, booking space in the upcoming Audience Play Development Program for an Indigenous writer, and hosting Tap Nation Chief Pilam Coahuiltecan Isaac “Papa Bear” Alvarez Cardenas to the artistic advisory committee of the theater company.
Environmentally, de Vasco says, the public will set aside time to help clean up San Pedro Springs Park, where the theater is located.
Perhaps most importantly, and in line with her mission to diversify the experiences that can be shared on the public theater stage, de Vasco said she would like to stage performances that focus on the history and culture of the indigenous tribes of the southern Texas, especially the Coahuiltecans. who calls San Antonio home.
“My hope is that as we make space for indigenous artists to tell their stories on our stage, through recognition, through public art, that they can start to be a more much of the story that we teach and tell in this area,” de Vasco mentioned.
AIT officials say they are optimistic the public is doing more than paying lip service through the land acknowledgment statement.
“We’ve partnered with them so sincerely because they include concrete steps to generate equity, not just to put in place a land recognition statement for cosmetics,” said development director Karla Aguilar. .
The American Indians of Texas focus on preserving the stories of the Native Americans who lived in the area, as well as their remaining descendants, through social, cultural, and economic means.
The public is not the first local institution to work with AIT in this regard. According to Aguilar, the organization has collaborated with Texas A&M, Incarnate Word, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the San Antonio Area Foundation.
What partnering with a theater company like the audience provides, Aguilar says, are resources for AIT to expand its storytelling efforts and reach the community more directly.
“Theatre gives Indigenous creators access to training and production processes, which are extremely important for any artist,” she added. “It sets an example of how to generate visibility for us and make a fairer scene possible.”
These resources are especially important to the Coahuiltecan tribes in Texas, Aguilar says, because they cannot take advantage of resources from government agencies. The reason: More than 570 tribes have been recognized by the federal government, making them eligible for funding and other services.
But the Coahuiltecan community is not one of them. Instead, they are grouped into general statistical categories.
“We have our work cut out,” Aguilar said.
For now, the public is recommitted to sharing the story of the land on which it was built a century ago.
“Thoughtful leadership makes all the difference,” Aguilar said. “And the public theater has that now.”